LONDON – At Saturday's Fan Fest for yesterday's International Series game between the Cowboys and Jaguars, Dez Bryant stole the show.
They brought the players out on stage in the expansive parking lot area after the morning walk-through practice at Wembley Stadium, with five of the Cowboys asked to speak. One by one they did.
But when Dez took the microphone, he said a few words, then connected with the crowd like no one else did. He talked about the Cowboys being "America's Team," sort of the slogan of many of the signs and banners lining the streets here across the pond. And he decided it was time for some fan participation.
So Dez, at one time in his five-year career not known for public speaking, started shouting "America's!" and the fans responded in unison without any coercion with "Team!" He did it again and again and again.
Dez, "America's!" the fans, "Team!"
His teammates got a kick out of it. So did the fans. A side of Dez we rarely get to see.
Well, the very next day with 83,603 packed into Wembley Stadium, Dez Bryant stole the show again, and only needed one quarter to do so. Why, he caught six passes in the second one for 158 yards, the most receiving yards by any Cowboys receiver in a single quarter. Two of those receptions were for touchdowns.
One was for 35 yards. The other was for 68 yards. Both were spectacular in their own right, almost fanatical. He was bound and determined to score. One defender wasn't going to stop him. He ran as if a man possessed, bouncing off Jacksonville players as if he was in some bumper-car ride, or maybe closer to the truth, some NASCAR race coming down to the checkered flag where such jostling might cause a fist-fight.
Boom … boom … boom.
His two second-quarter touchdowns propelling the Cowboys into a 24-7 halftime lead Sunday at Wembley Stadium, turning this International show into a 31-17 cakewalk for the Cowboys, who head into their bye week now with a 7-3 record, their best 10-game mark since going 7-3 in 2009.
I mean, geesh, six catches 158 yards, two touchdowns, an unfathomable 26.3 yards per catch, cramming a game's worth of numbers into a single quarter.
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett didn't stutter, but he continued to repeat himself over and over again after the game when asked about Dez's performance, saying, "He ran with reckless abandon." If he said it once, he said it five times.
There was a time a year or so when I had engaged Jason in a conversation about Dez, about how he ran with locomotive power. He talked about how the Cowboys just need to find ways to get him the ball, that "nobody wants to tackle him." Oh they try, basically giving lip-service to the effort. Reach here. Grab there. But no one wants to square up with him when he's running with a full head of steam.
And it's not that he's all that big, 6-2, 220, about the size of most wide receivers. And it's not that he is the strongest man on the field, although the eyeball test would suggest otherwise. But have you ever – ever – seen a man run more determined with the ball in his hands than Dez. It's like he takes it personally if you bring him down, as if he'd be some kind of wimp.
"That was my mindset going into the game," Dez said of being so resistant to being tackled.
Take the first touchdown, the 35-yarder giving the Cowboys a 17-7 lead with 7:01 left in the second quarter. He crossed the field, from slot left to right, no more than 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, screaming past quarterback Tony Romo. That wasn't a play, Dez said. He says he just adjusted to how the corner was playing him, so here he came attracting Romo's attention in more ways than one, catching the ball on the dead run.
Turns up field, broke one tackle. Then another. Then another. And those two guys trying to bring him down somewhere inside maybe the 5-yard line? Forget about it. This man was intent on scoring. He had the place roaring.
Throw up the X, man.
"End zone, man," Dez said of this thoughts once the ball was in his hands. "I wanted to get in the end zone. That's all it was. Make a play."
And you would have thought the Jaguars would have learned. There they were playing defense with just 31 seconds left in the first half, still within shouting distance of the Cowboys, trailing, 17-7. The Cowboys had the ball on their own 32.
The Cowboys go three-wide, along with Jason Witten, a touchdown grab to his credit already, in the tight slot. Not sure what the Jaguars were thinking, playing a single safety high and leaving Dwayne Gratz in single coverage on Dez. Maybe they thought the Cowboys would try to nickel and dime them to get in field-goal range.
Because afterward, Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley sort of beat around the bush when asked why there was "not safety help" with such little time left on the clock.
He said, and I quote, "It's good. It's a play that we require our corners to make first and second down, and that time frame, with 39 seconds left (sic), you're right, we could have done some things to help them out. It was still high single safety, should have made the tackle, could have made the play."
He rambled on some more.
Well, Romo spotted the mismatch, and lofted a perfect spiral to Dez, who caught the ball and busted through the Gratz's effort to tackle him. There he went, down the sideline, right along with Garrett, who seemed to be sprinting ("No, I wouldn't describe it as a sprint," he said) down the sideline along with Dez, he was so excited.
Well, maybe a little, but Garrett was cognizant of the clock, and wanted to be right there to call a timeout when Dez was tackled. Silly Jason, this dude ain't going down.
"Really, the issue there was I thought he went down the first time (he got hit)," Garrett said, "and then I thought he went down the second time. We were trying to get a timeout called because I think there were just over 30 seconds when we snapped the ball."
But Dez didn't go down, busting Gratz's tackle and then acting as if the one attempted by Jonathan Cyprien was like some sort of mosquito buzzing by a thoroughbred. Get out of here, you pest.
Touchdown, 68 yards, 24-7 Cowboys, taking all of 12 seconds to match his club long this year for a scoring play after his 35-yarder was the Cowboys' longest offensive touchdown since the Houston game.
"That's how you shut up the petty stuff that don't matter," said Dez, in reference to being included in the group of Cowboys players reportedly missing curfew on Friday night, though it would have been against the Collective Bargaining Agreement for the Cowboys to have instituted a curfew other than Saturday night, when Garrett insisted was the only night there was an official bed check.
That was six catches for 158 yards in the second quarter alone, more than any other Cowboys receiver. Not Bob Hayes, not Drew Pearson, not Michael Irvin. None ever had more receiving yards in a single quarter, which also went down as the most franchise receiving yards in a half. Hey, who needs two quarters?
"He was fantastic," Romo said, almost at a loss for a more meaningful word.
"He was feeling good, he was animated all week."
Just like Saturday. No stage too big for Dez.